(A piece of reflection by Yvonne Ng, one of our medical student volunteers)
Her baby is born with a cleft lip, a gap between her upper lip. She does not know why, she does not even care for what this is called or how it is formed, all she cares about is - why her child? Why of all the approximately 7 billion people in the world, and therefore 3.5 billion females, why does her child have to be born with this deformity that makes her stand apart from what is considered normal by society? Perhaps she should have given more offerings to the Gods because now her child is being punished for her own deeds. How will her child ever enter into a marriage and have somebody to look after him/her when she passes on. She’ll never be able to afford the medical bill, so nevermind about the possible treatments available for her child that her fellow villagers are telling her about.
The above was a common tale heard during screening day in Mandalay, Myanmar, where I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to witness the good work of Operation Smile Singapore on their Myanmar-Singapore Friendship Mission trip in February 2012. The technicalities of my medical school embryology knowledge on how a cleft lip or cleft palate is formed became a background drone as I witnessed for myself the real-word realities and impact of the deformity in a developing society. Perhaps because of some hidden maternal instincts deep within me, I felt for the mothers – I felt for their sadness and how they cursed their bad luck, but perhaps more importantly, I felt for their joy and anticipated hope as they waited patiently for their child to be screened.
Without a doubt, this mission is the greastest experience of my life. I felt a sense of happiness there that I never felt in my entire life. I learned so much from all the selfless individuals who so willingly contributed their time and energy to this cause. I loved how every single team member worked so seamlessly and effortlessly together to make the mission a success. I admired how everyone around had hearts of gold and gave their one thousand percent for the good of the burmese people. And perhaps because of my own impatient nature, I loved how every surgical operation gave me a sense of instant gratification as something done, a smile changed, a life changed.
Of course, the mission experience extends to the friendships that were formed and this I could gladly take back with me to Singapore! I could go on and on about every single thing that I adored about the mission, because there really is a lot. But I’ll end here by saying that I’ll make every effort to drop anything on my schedule and go back as a volunteer for another mission in the future!